Tuesday, November 01, 2005
The Perfect Pizza
Getting great pizza at home is alot easier than people think. The secret to moving past doughy, bland and messy pizza can be found at your local hardware store for around six dollars. What makes a pizza great is conductive heat passing straight into the crust from below. This is why there are hundreds of "Baking Stones" and "Pizza Stones" on the market today. A stone heated in a 500 degree oven soaks up a lot of heat in its dense mass and then transfers that heat to your crust giving you a crispy delicious pizza.
The problem is, most stones available in kitchen stores are either thin and almost useless, or extremely expensive. All-Clad makes a soapstone Pizza Stone set, but it costs $100. I was looking for a better solution (or lots of cash) when I saw a Good Eats episode on baking bread. The host, Alton Brown, who is known for innovative ideas for kitchen tasks, used a terra cotta planter dish as a baking stone. Just invert the dish so the flat side faces up, and you have a thick dense earthenware baking stone with a large diameter for under ten bucks.
After seeing that, the next time I was in Lowe's, I picked up one of those dishes and put it in my oven. You have to put it in before the oven is hot or it can crack from thermal shock. Place on on the floor of your oven, (or the lowest shelf if you have an exposed calrod) and let it heat up for as long as you can wait. The more heat the stone absorbs, the better. When your pizza is ready to go in the oven, slide it onto the stone with a pizza peel or what you can use to get the pizza on the stone without burning your fingers. The pizza will be done in 6-10 minutes. Remove with the peel and rest for a minute before you cut it.
I picked up a pizza dough from my local pizza shop (yes, you can buy just a dough. Around here they sell them for about four dollars.) I shaped two rounds and I made one of them and my wife made the other. I generally go for simplicity in my pizzas. Dough, sauce and cheese(s). Yvette likes to put garlic powder and parmesan cheese, olives and whatever food she's into at the time. So we each made a pizza and... WOW! It was unlike any pizza I had ever experienced. We became obsessed with pizza, making it every night that week and for Melave Malka for a whole lot of weeks after that.
We've been experimenting since then, but now I actually like homemade pizza better than from the pizza shop and its really just as easy. Making your own dough is the next step, and if you plan in advance is also really easy. Any time I know that am going to make pizza beforehand I usually make the dough, whereas when it on a whim and I haven't the time, I just go out and buy one. All you need is flour, water, yeast and salt. Some recipes call for sugar and some oil, but with those few ingredients you can have a great pizza dough. Just dissolve the yeast in warm water with a little flour or sugar, then add the flour and mix with the dough hook or food processor until the dough is pulling away from the sides of the wall. (You have to check the texture with bread doughs, becasue there's really no way to know in advance how much water the flour will absorb. There are two many variables like humidity and protein content.)
When the dough pulls away cleanly, coat it lightly with oil (so a film doesnt form on the outer edge) and let it rise for about an hour. You can then roll it out and make pizza or punch it down and let it make a second rise. Its really simple and fun and I think that everbody should try it. You will never go back to the old way!
Recommended Kitchen Stuff
Zyliss Pizza Wheel - Very easy to cut through Pizza, because you put pressure directly down where you are cutting.
Microplane Grater/Slicer - Best Grater Ever!
Lodge Original Finish Cast Iron 10-1/4-Inch Skillet - Every Kitchen should have (at least) one of these.